Slain Bibb County deputy honored for sacrifice

jkovac@macon.comMay 20, 2013 

In the midnight darkness of a summer Sunday in 1918, eight lawmen from Macon rode off in a pair of cars bound for a craps game.

It was a raid.

There’d been complaints of gambling at a three-room house up in the old Holton community, what is now known as Arkwright, along the Ocmulgee River some 10 miles northwest of downtown.

Bibb County deputy Leland Williams led the way.

When he and his men, including his brother, Lon, got close, they pulled over and cut their lights. They crept to the house. Some were posted at windows, some stationed at the back door.

Williams, 40, and a Macon city detective named John Alexander rushed the front door. Half a dozen or so people inside scattered. Williams chased one into a back room. Lon Williams ran in after shooting started.

One of the gamblers had fired first. Leland Williams took a bullet to the head and collapsed, but not before emptying his revolver.

The man who’d shot him, Ike Holt, sprinted out the front door as deputies unloaded on him.

“Officers on guard outside ... state that his clothes were burning from being fired upon at close range and he offered a good target,” an article in The Macon Daily Telegraph said.

The gunman didn’t get far that mid-August night. Police, led by bloodhounds, found Holt dead just after sun-up, propped against a fence. There were five bullet holes in his stomach.

The slain deputy Williams, a father to five sons and a daughter, was lauded in the newspaper as “one of the most faithful, fearless and efficient officers Bibb ever had.”

He’d been a deputy nearly a decade and a railroad blacksmith before that. He and his wife, Annie, and their family lived on Napier Avenue.

Though he was mentioned at memorials from time to time, down the years his family didn’t much talk about his death.

It was years before his grave marker at Riverside Cemetery bore his name.

But on Monday, nearly 95 years after deputy Franklin Leland Williams died in the line of duty, he was saluted again.

His name is now engraved in a granite column in a courtyard at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. At the annual ceremony for fallen officers, Williams was one of a dozen such honorees.

Seven of them died last year. One, from Adel, died in 1902.

A memorial bell tolled 12 times, once for each officer.

A bagpiper from the State Patrol played “Amazing Grace.”

A Sandy Springs cop played “Taps.”

A retired Atlanta police officer belted out the national anthem.

Gov. Nathan Deal spoke of those who “many years ago made the sacrifice.”

“It is altogether appropriate that we go back every year and recognize those who perhaps were not appropriately honored at the time that their death occurred,” the governor said.

Williams’ 69-year-old grandson, Lane Williams Jr., named for the slain deputy’s youngest boy, took it all in.

Lane Jr., whose father was 9 months old when deputy Williams died, spent Monday’s ceremony with a Bibb deputy -- also named Williams but of no known relation -- at his side.

“I had no idea that it was anything of this magnitude,” Lane Jr., who lives near Augusta, said of the ceremony. “I’m really speechless. ... My father and his family, they’re the ones who paid the price. ... It puts us in tune with the sacrifice those people pay. ... I just never expected this kind of acknowledgment or honor on his behalf. It’s very moving.”

Lane Jr. said his father, his aunt and his uncles all grew up on the straight and narrow in their father’s absence. One uncle drove ambulances in Washington, D.C. Another traveled the world as a professional dancer.

Lane Jr.’s father fought in World War II and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Marines.

He said his widowed grandmother never said much about her husband’s death. Nor did his father.

“My dad from when I was young just said, ‘My dad was a deputy sheriff and he was shot and killed.’ And that’s basically all we knew,” Lane Jr. said. “And it was just one of those things that in times past, things were just not talked about. You know, family tragedies. You just moved on to the next thing. It was just our culture.”

After deputy Williams died on Aug. 11, 1918, The Telegraph took up donations for his family. Five days after his funeral, the total stood at $204.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service